Reservist Face a Broken System was one of the first real “opinion” pieces that I’ve ever written. It was also the first time I submitted an article to an actual website VS simply guest posting for other bloggers. It was featured on Spousebuzz.com in August of this year. This is the unedited version that is more similar to what I would have published if I were to have posted it here on my blog.
We are facing a broken system. I have said this many times to my husband, a USMC reservist with two deployments and 10 years of service under his belt, and he scoffed at me. Me, a spouse, couldn’t possibly understand “the system.” Having heard the stories, met the spouses, held hands with those who have been effected, I have seen first hand how broken the system that was built to support our service members is. But now, in light of a recent situation, my husband has told me that he sees it. I’m going to share with you a story of a young Marine, who has served his country and how we have failed him.
This young man has never seen combat, he has never deployed, he was not injured in the line of duty, but he is ill. He cried for help one weekend, away from home, to the only man he trusts, my husband, his superior. He created a plan to take his own life, but my husband intervened. My husband sat with him for hours at the hospital, supporting a man who felt he had no one else. He was released from the hospital and sent home.
A few days later, my husband had not heard from this Marine in 36 hours. He grew more and more concerned with each hour that passed. He finally received a phone call from a doctor, but panic rose in his system. Had this young man finally succeeded? No, he checked into a hospital to seek help, but not a VA hospital, a civilian one. You see, this man, who loves his country enough to freely sign a contract binding him to serve his nation, was told that his nation would not help him. Because he has never seen combat, because he was not injured in the line of duty, because his illness is not PTSD from combat related stress, and because he is a reservist, the military has denied him help.
My husband and a fellow Marine spent hours calling every resource they could, from the VA all the way down to Military One Source. Each time being told that no one would help them find this young Marine help because he is a reservist who does not qualify for psychiatric care benefits. Were he to be active duty, it would be a different story, he would not only get counseling, but long-term psychiatric care. But, this young Marine, the hardest worker my husband says he has ever known, has fallen through the cracks of a broken system, because his civilian insurance does not offer mental health coverage and the military does not deem him qualified for the benefits. When what this young man so desperately needs is long-term psychiatric care, he was told that a few free counseling sessions though Military One Source was all he could hope for.
A commonly unreported statistic is that the reserve side of the military faces nearly as many suicides as the active duty side does. This epidemic does not care what type of contract you have signed, what your rank is, what unit you are attached to, nor does it care what benefits you are entitled to. And we do not know, based on these reports that we read, if all of these suicides are combat related, but I’m betting they are not. I’m betting that many of these men and women have also fallen through the cracks of the broken system that was put into place to help them. The fear that if you seek help for PTSD it will negatively effect your service record and your career, and the men and women who try to seek help for non-service related issues and are denied, is proof that this safety net is not, in fact, a safety net.
This young man did the right thing. He reached out to a superior he trusted, and sought help. But in spite of his courage, he was denied because of his status as a reservist who has never seen combat. It is possible his service record will have a blemish now, it is unknown at this time how this situation is going to effect his career in the Marine Corps, but I have to wonder: If this can effect his record, if his mental status can blemish his career, why does it not also then qualify him for help?
I fear what will happen if the system in place is never fixed, but who is going to stand up and shout for change? When will the voices of those who have been failed by our military be loud enough to be heard? I’m not sure if they ever will. As long as we are afraid to speak up when our spouses need help for fear of what it will do to their careers, as long as those who seek help and are denied are too wounded to fight back and as long we continue to accept things the way there are, there will never be change.
I can only hope that this Marine can get the help he needs. It much more important that he get treatment, than he worry about his career, but it’s sad to me that he has to worry about both at all. And it pains me that the only person he trusted, his superior in the Marine Corps, was unable to get him the help he deserved.